Ontario's Court of Appeal has freed a Hamilton man who has been in prison for 8 years after being convicted of the 2012 armed robbery at the Pura Vida Salon.
The appeal court overturned the conviction and granted Adam Booth, 35, a full acquittal.
Justice David M. Paciocco made the ruling on Dec. 11, 2019 — three years and a month after Booth was sentenced to 12 years in prison minus time served for charges including robbery and aggravated assault.
Paciocco called the evidence in the case "misleading" and "circumstantial."
Amanda Moore, Booth's ex-fiancé, says he plans on filing a lawsuit against Hamilton police and maybe the province.
She said he is still trying to absorb his pending new reality — a life outside of prison.
"He was in shock he didn't really know how to take it," Moore tells CBC News. "He's really excited."
Moore says he'll may have to wait until August for his freedom. Booth is still inside Collins Bay Institution in Kingston, Ont., and has to serve more time for fighting an inmate who allegedly threatened to stab him.
Booth also has a past criminal record, but Moore says prison staff downgraded him from maximum security to medium security.
"He's hoping to get parole in March," she says.
The night of the robbery
Court documents show two hooded men with dark gloves and bandanas hiding their faces entered the Pura Vida Salon along Highway 8 in Stoney Creek on Mar. 7, 2012 at 9 p.m., ready to rob the store.
The robbers, one taller than the other, pointed two fake guns at the staff members inside.
During the robbery, the taller man, who officers said was Booth, pulled out a real gun and shot co-owner Muamar Alqebali in the abdomen. The shorter man struck Alqebali's wife, co-owner Mona Zallum, in the face.
Then, both robbers forced a female employee to the floor and bound her with zip-ties before stealing a diamond bracelet, two expensive watches, the cash register, and two gym bags.
Zallum managed to call 911 and left the phone off the hook, before running out after the robbers who fled in a vehicle.
'Misleading' evidence led to Booth's conviction
Court documents show Booth was linked to the case after speaking to a Hamilton detective constable on Feb. 16, 2012 for an unrelated investigation. The officer says Booth wore Nike high top shoes and that he had his jeans tucked into the back of his socks, which he said matched the taller suspect's outfit.
Officers also cited two photos of Booth from Mar. 9, 2012 which showed him, a young, white male wearing white running shoes with his pants tucked into the back of his socks.
But they did not measure his height.
Paciocco ruled "full and frank disclosure did not occur in this case" by police.
Some other issues the judge cites include:
Officers searched a small number of licence plates that didn't match what the victims filed in the police report (and the victims also admitted they weren't sure what the licence plate number was).
The car that police found via the licence plates was a different colour than what was described by the victims.
The officers did not note that a witness saw one of the suspects wearing a red shirt, which neither Booth nor the other suspect wore.
Police highlighted how one of the suspects also wore a watch that may have been linked to the crime, despite the victim saying the watch wasn't his.
Detectives executed a search warrant of Booth's residence with no physical description of Booth and based the warrant on circumstantial evidence — the search came up empty.
Police completed another search warrant for Booth's digital video recorder with no "reasonable and probable grounds" to do so.
Michael Plaxton, a certified video analyst testified for the Crown.
"Although Mr. Plaxton did not identify anything distinctive that would permit him to offer the opinion that [Booth and the other suspect] were the robbers, he identified a network of similarities that, along with after-the-fact conduct evidence relating to Mr. Booth, ultimately formed the heart of the prosecution," Paciocco said, according to court documents.
Paciocco also noted the case against Booth "utterly" depended on the digital video recorder and said without the evidence above — which should have been excluded — the case was "gutted."
Booth hopes to live a normal life
Moore says Booth was gutted when he was convicted.
"You can tell by his mugshot that night, he is just devastated. The look on his face is like, 'why me?'" she says.
She says he was trying to leave a life of crime. He had a girlfriend for five years and was planning to open his own business, selling jewlery he bought from pawn shops and other stores.
The relationship and dreams of owning a business died when he went back to prison.
"He wants to live the normal life he was trying to live before he got this pushed on him," Moore says.
Moore and Booth were engaged after meeting 18 months ago, but Moore says they called off their plans as Booth became increasingly stressed while in prison.
"He doesn't want them to mess with him more ... he's very quiet in there, not trying to push his luck," she says.
"He lost a lot. His job, a house, his whole life."